Monday, March 8, 2010

Unpacking Memories

My father spent his Korean War service assigned to an infantry division in training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, after which he was promoted and assigned to a small US Army outpost in Verdun, France.

There for a good portion of his three years in Europe he was the US Army liaison officer assigned to a battalion of Polish soldiers. The Poles had escaped the Nazis, fought with the Allies, but could not return to their home because of the Russian occupation. Many had been in the pre-WW II Polish army. Others had served in the Polish government. And many had fought in the underground. Only a few had wives or families with them.

During the summers, I sometimes spent the day with my father, and the Poles were always welcoming. In fact, as a family, we often attended their holiday celebrations. All this came to mind when I found a bird carved from a single block of wood by one of the Polish troops. It had been packed away during our recent move. The soldier gave it to me one day when I was traveling with my father. I've kept the little bird for more than a half century now, and each time I see it, I wonder about those men from that far away place and time.

About fifteen years ago during a period when I was active as a ham radio operator, I communicated with a French ham radio operator who lived in Verdun. When I asked him if he remembered the NATO presence there in the 1950s, he said he did, and he also had a recollection of the Polish soldiers that were stationed there. He told me he thought most of them had either been granted French citizenship or had immigrated to the US or to Australia.

I suppose nearly all of them, like most veterans of WW II, have completed the long march through life, or if not are near the end. The memory of those soldiers in limbo has stuck with me for a half-century. It seems a melancholy victory, to have been driven from one's homeland by a vicious enemy, to fight and see that enemy brought to his knees, only to have the country placed under the boot of another tyrant.

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